I put the DVD for “Can-Can,” the 1960 Twentieth Century Fox film, in my machine and the screen went black while some orchestral music played. It took me a while to realize that the film starts with an Overture that lasts for some time before the credits roll. Luckily, the lights eventually come on in this bright, colorful, bubbly production that features terrific songs written by Cole Porter. Can-Can stars Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Juliet Prowse. You can’t go wrong with that cast, even if the film stretches it a bit at its 2 hours and 21 minute running time.
After the Overture, the film takes us to Paris in 1896, where François Durnais (Sinatra) and Paul Barriere (Chevalier) sing an ode to the neighborhood of Monmartre. Then, the film takes us to the Bal du Paradis nightclub, owned by Simone Pistache (MacLaine). Although Paris forbids the can-can dance, Simone rebelliously allows her chorus girls to perform it. This leads to trouble with the police, which results in raids on the club. Simone begins a triangle love affair with François and zealous judge Philipe Forrestier (Jourdan), who wants to kick the can-can out of Paris.
Although François is categorically opposed to marriage, he recognizes a significant rival for Simone’s affections in Philipe. Even though Philipe falls madly in love with Simone, she refuses to give up the can-can. A lot of romantic plots hinge on dubious misunderstandings, but this one doesn’t veer off from the fact that Simone wants to keep her options open. Neither of the two men courting her offer the full package of what she wants, and it’s interesting to see François and Philipe slug it out with their wits.
Thanks to several sparking dance numbers, and MacLaine’s charming screen presence, the film is a delight. In one particularly interesting fight-dance number at the Bal du Paradis, MacLaine is dragged and thrown across the stage as she battles a group of violent thugs. MacLaine and Prowse also do a smashing turn in the Adam and Eve dance number, with MacLaine playing Eve and Prowse playing the serpent. Both are excellent dancers. Choreographer Hermes Pan, famous for his work on the Astaire-Rogers musicals staged the wonderful dances, which I found even more entertaining than the Cole Porter songs.
Although Prowse offers a French accent, neither Sinatra or MacLaine attempt one. Sinatra comes across as he usually does in musicals, breezy and quick-thinking. MacLaine’s ultra feminine performance as the feisty but girlish Simone seems right for a film with 2 strong French-speaking leads (Jourdan and Chevalier). What happens at the conclusion of the film cannot be predicted with absolute certainty,which makes it well-worth watching despite its length. The film also includes an Intermission and another Overture at the end.